Are British journalists failing the republican minority?

This article was first published by Press Gazette in 2012, following the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The BBC was heavily criticised this month over its coverage of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, which was described by one MP as "celebrity-driven drivel".

But none of those complaints – at least not those published in the national press – suggested the coverage was lacking impartiality.

That is the claim levelled at the corporation by Graham Smith, chief executive of anti-monarchist group Republic.

In an interview with Press Gazette, Smith claimed the BBC's relationship with the Palace was so cosy that it banned the use of footage showing the Queen knighting disgraced former RBS chief Fred Goodwin.

Smith says he was told by BBC producers that a 'banned list'had been circulated that also included embarrassing footage of "It's a Royal Knockout'from 1987.

"If anyone else asked them to do that the BBC would say, 'Sorry but this has news value and therefore we're going to broadcast it'.

"It's our public broadcaster filming our head of state conferring an honour on Fred Goodwin," he adds, "It shouldn't be a matter of private deals between the BBC and the Palace."

Smith believes the BBC 'completely fails'in its impartiality obligation when it comes to coverage of the Royals, rarely giving voice to republican sentiments.

"It's just incredibly, obviously pro-royal," he says. "We have people within the BBC telling us they're sick and tired of how the BBC operates and they're very frustrated.

"I don't think it's a conspiracy, I think it's a cultural, institutionalised bias, which they just don't seem to realise is a problem."

Boaden: 'One rarely pleases all the people all the time'

The Palace declined to comment on Smith's claims, but Helen Boaden, the director of BBC News, insisted that it regularly included the views of Royal critics, including during the Jubilee celebrations and last year's Royal wedding.

"Specifically, we reflected republican views on the main TV and radio news bulletins before the Jubilee last Friday and during live radio and television coverage of events over the weekend," she said.

Boaden says it is "simply inaccurate to portray BBC News as unquestioningly 'pro-royal'", but added: "In that process one rarely pleases all the people all the time and the BBC makes no complaint about that."

Boaden said it was wrong to claim the BBC operated a "banned list", adding: "We don't. But nor do we own the copyright to all the film we might like to use and, even where we do, we are often bound by complex contractual arrangements concerning re-use.

"However, there are occasions where we would use contractually restricted material in a news context if there was a strong justification – for example, we have on occasion used clips from the Grand Knockout Tournament to illustrate news stories.

"We would do so again if the story merited it."

Smith, meanwhile, also believes the UK's national newspapers routinely display the same kind of "institutional" bias toward the monarchy.

Polls consistently show that between 20-25 per cent of the UK population do not support the monarchy.

"That's quite a substantial proportion, and that doesn't really get reflected," says Smith. "I think the key thing is that the whole coverage is incredibly superficial."

One of Republic's biggest gripes is the lack of scrutiny into the cost of the Royals.

The figure usually reported by the media is between £30-£37m.

But a report released by the group last year put the annual cost of funding the monarchy at £202.4m – around five times the official figure published by the Royal household.

'A fair crack at the whip'

Perhaps unsurprisingly, one man who disagrees quite strongly with Smith's assessment of the British media is Stephen Bates, who until very recently was The Guardian's royal editor.

"I don't think we're inherently biased towards the monarchy," he insists.

"I confess to a certain degree of scepticism at Graham's views because he sees absolutely nothing positive in the monarchy whatsoever and I think he's frankly a bit juvenile in the way he presents Republic's case.

"We can't just publish stories which say that the monarchy is rubbish because A, that's not the case and B, it's the source of stories of interest to our readers, whether they are pro-monarchy, pro this particular queen and her family or not.

He adds: "Other papers are more slavishly pro-monarchy than the Guardian, but if there is a big event, like the Jubilee, then newspapers have a duty to report it and that's what we'll continue to do."

One of those "slavishly pro-monarchy" papers that Bates refers to is probably the Daily Express.

Yet its Royal editor, Richard Palmer, sympathises with Republic and says it fulfils an important function by "raising issues that do need airing".

"I think one of the things we try to do is examine how they spend public money," says Palmer.

"And one of the points that Republic has made quite eloquently, I feel, is that the figure that the Palace gives each year for the cost of the Royal family – and they always do it by the average cost per person – is really only one part of the picture."

He adds: "I think it's useful to maintain dialogue with anti-monarchy groups because they do raise some important issues. And personally I've got some sympathy with them when they say the broadcasters aren't giving them a fair crack at the whip."

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